Priyanka Amar Shah attributes her love for greenery to her “nature loving family.” The Mumbai resident grew up in a suburban home whose balconies were always adorned with plants. It was also her affinity for nature that made her notice how barren the other balconies of her neighbourhood seemed in comparison.
Around 2011, Priyanka and her brother began growing herbs at home, plucking chillies and lemons for family dinners. During this time, she was pursuing and MBA from Welingkar Institute of Management Development & Research where she got an opportunity to present a business idea. Determined to use the opportunity fruitfully, she combined her love for nature with business skills to conceptualise iKheti, an urban farming enterprise.
Today, iKheti has become a full-fledged eco-friendly enterprise that facilitates farming among city dwellers with workshops, consultancy and gardening resources.
For this young ecopreneur, concern for environment goes hand-in-hand with a healthy food movement. Unlike other gardening ventures, iKheti emphasizes on growing edible vegetables, fruits and herbs. “Mumbai is great for growing edible plants. We have great sunshine and the weather is not as extreme as other cities,” Priyanka says.
Priyanka’s vision for iKheti’s vision is, “To create a platform for both, individuals & communities to grow healthy consumable crops within their premises & promote sustainable urban farming.”
Today, a number of organisations work in the same area and the number of people invested in urban farming is on the rise. Yet in 2011, when Priyanka got started, it was still unexplored territory and people had to be educated on the benefits and methods of farming in small spaces.
“We started with workshops,” says Priyanka on her early days with iKheti. “But we soon realised that holding workshops was not enough.” People needed to carry their learning back from home and apply it, and Priyanka took a more holistic approach to overcome the obstacle. From seeds and organic manure to consulting and maintenance, iKheti expanded their scope. “It was an unorganised sector and professional help was lacking,” she says. “Our main focus was to become a one-stop shop.”
Supported by a network of volunteers and trained malis, iKheti hopes to introduce everyone to the joy of organic farming.
Priyanka insists on taking the no-chemical approach to farming, in tandem with her emphasis on healthy eating. From offering seeds and DIY kits on sale to offering consulting services on composting and kitchen gardening, she wants to train people in the art of growing their own food.
For time-strapped clients, iKheti offers an on-call mali (gardener) service. Finding this taskforce was one of her biggest challenges, Priyanka admits, as they were unfamiliar with the extra maintenance and organic methods. “Over time, they have become very caring. I foster animals, and sometimes when I am not around the nursery, they do it for me.”
“Our malis are specially trained to look after edible plants, and they are the backbone of this business,” she adds.
For beginners, Priyanka recommends growing herbs, which are easier and faster to grow. Herbs like curry leaves, ajwain, tulsi and pudina are very popular. “These might sound common, but 90 percent people who come to us don’t grow any of those plants,” she says. Herbs like celery, basil and oregano are also popular and Priyanka recommends growing these before one moves on to vegetable farming.
iKheti’s success has prompted Priyanka to take up new challenges: community farming, vertical gardening & hydroponics.
Having reached out to over 4,000 people via personal services and workshops, Priyanka is now emphasizing on encouraging bigger groups. iKheti’s experience with a few corporate and religious institutions has also shown that farming is best effectively practised on rooftops or bigger spaces. She also works with schools, encouraging children to eat healthy and understand the value of food.
Another area in which iKheti is beginning to work is with farmers around Mumbai, teaching them the values of organic farming. Admittedly, it is not easy—farmers worry about diminishing produce and Priyanka thinks it is a valid concern driven by the market and low awareness. “Many farmers don’t know that organic produce fetches higher prices,” she says.
The iKheti team not only educates farmers, but also teaches them the value of land as legacy. After all, a fertile land is a boon for the next generation.
Keeping space considerations in mind, iKheti is also venturing into vegetable growing in vertical spaces and taking tiny steps towards hydroponic systems. Their ultimate endeavour is to combine the two in an effort to offer greater convenience for urban farmers.
Priyanka aims to acquaint people from all works of life to the importance of a green environment. Not just farming, even smaller plants can make a difference. At the iKheti nursery, plants are reared to contribute to their surroundings, from purifying the air to attracting butterflies and insects. “We want to create a sustainable environment,” she says, encapsulating her ecopreneurial vision.